The Most Expensive Surfboards in the World
Stuart Nettle July 29, 2010
Roy Stewart is a surfer and shaper from the regional town of Putaruru, New Zealand. Don't apologise if you haven't heard of it, Putaruru is no surfing hub, the nearest beach of any repute being Mt Maunganui. And Mt Maunganui, despite being home to an infamous artificial reef, could hardly be considered a surf mecca itself.
The point being Putaruru is so far off the surfing radar as to barely register. Yet from his distant workshop Roy crafts amazing surfboards that are capturing the attention of surfers worldwide. And due to the price tag that he places on them his boards are keeping rarefied company.
At last glance Gucci was hocking an Asian produced popout for US $2200, pretentious NY fashion label Proenza Schouler $2995, and Chanel a similarly made shiny shooter for $3900. Yet Roy tops all of these folk with his 'Baron' model retailing for $528 000. Yep, over half a million dollars - the most expensive surfboard in the world! And unlike those boards listed above, his are the functional result of a love affair with surfing and surfboard design.
I dialled his workshop in Putaruru to have a chat...
Swellnet: You've got a surfboard design called the Baron, which sells for $528 000, does that include a free cake of wax and tailpad? Roy Stewart: No tailpad, but I'll give you a whole box of wax.
Are they the best boards that you've made? Yes and no. Well, I make a lot of best boards. There's no one 'best board' as there's always a new one tempting me in the eternal quest for perfection. The feeling of having the best possible board is almost always there while I move from board to board. For me, it's a moving target, an excuse to create and collect, and a form of divine dissatisfaction.
Do you spend a lot of time making these boards? Yes. The building of a Baron 12 footer takes me approximately 200 hours. The design processes take far longer.
Have you had much interest in them? Yes. A huge amount of interest.
Are you confident that they will sell? Yes I am. I love the experiences I've had on the Baron and there are people who are going to want to experience it themselves. When I sell one at $528 000 I'm going to be happy, and so will the buyer.
However, if I don't sell one at that price I get to continue to collect them, and I really love collecting them. I don't like seeing them go out the door cheaply because then my collection diminishes and I only make a few every year. I love having them and riding them so that's one reason the price is so high.
And the other reason? Having the price so high is like an act of faith in the beauty of surfing as well. If somebody asked you, assuming that you loved your wife, 'whats your wife worth?' You might say, 'she's priceless' or 'she's worth a hundred million dollars' or beyond. That's what it's like with people that we're fond of. Well, its a bit like that with the boards - I really love these boards and I've had an amazing time on them. The experience is priceless so they get a very high price tag.
In the marketplace of surfing everything is portioned up, and its all dollars per hour and materials cost and market forces and everything's sort of carved up, if you know what I mean. It can be a bit soul destroying. Well this is just taking it way over the top, it's just saying 'surfing is fantastic' and if you've got piles of money then you might enjoy one of these amazing boards too. And they are amazing boards.
They certainly look like it. They look like masterpieces in fact. Thanks.
You say you're taking the price way over the top, how did a value of $528 000 come about? 528 is a Solfeggio Frequency. 528 Hertz. I could've chosen many numbers but to eliminate a lot of possibilities I chose a number that is beneficial to people. (Solfeggio Frequencies are six sound frequencies used to heal. Read more here)
An interesting thing is that all other boards that approach yours in price are made by fashion houses - Gucci, Chanel, Ralph Lauren - and the like. Flashy looking boards but not terribly functional. Just showpieces in fact... There's a paradox. When I initially designed these boards in 1994 I drew the first parallel profile [Roy's boards are the same thickness from nose to tail] on the floor of the workshop and I thought 'My God that's ugly. No-one's going to accept this. I don't accept this!' It looked ridiculous...but it made sense from a functional point of view so I just went ahead and did it, obstinately, and they rode really well.
I kept doing them and now people think they're beautiful art pieces. Sometimes people say to me 'Oh, your boards are very expensive, does that mean that they are just wall hangers?' The answer is that everything about them has been ruthlessly designed for pure surfing function. Ultimately, only that which works well becomes art.
I'm going back to a simpler era in the art. I'm a minimalist, I don't like doing unnecessary things. I just like to be there and feel what is happening, so I like a board that does the job without a lot of spurious athletic input. I mean, you still have to use strength and have wave knowledge, but if we see how Tom Blake surfs, it's more pure. He's just being there.
It's like a meditation. It's still surfing of course, but not jamming. It's more dreamlike or trancelike. I call it pure surfing - a valid alternative to modern surfing. In art terms modern surfing is expressionistic, whereas pure surfing is impressionistic. In martial art terms modern surfing is an external art like Shaolin, pure surfing is an internal art like Wudang.
As a board designer and surfer I've discovered that when one gives up the burden of the unnecessary - the competition manoeuvres, the board walking and other stuff - there's a sense of ease and a deeper feeling to the ride.
They're undoubtedly works of art but it sounds like you'd prefer to see them ridden rather than hung on a wall. That's true. A lot of people assume that if someone is going to spend an enormous amount of money on a surfboard that looks beautiful then they are going to hang it on a wall and not ride it. But if someone has an income of, say, fifty million dollars a year and they buy a board for half a million then that's like someone on the average wage spending fifty dollars on a board. So I don't think that they are too expensive to ride for people who can afford to buy them in the first place.
If, on the other hand, a Baron surfboard is hung with the collection on a castle wall and admired for two hundred years that's also fine, as it can then be ridden by a future generation. All the while it has been appreciating in value.